Showing up – Where are my ladies at?
In case it somehow escaped your attention, there are zero women represented in this panel on Leadership in Software Development. As the primary organizer, and as a woman, this is a source of great frustration and deep guilt.
Many well-intentioned individuals and groups have taken this opportunity to remind me that there are a lot of women who develop software, including noted leaders in the field. So, why aren’t any of them on this panel, or on more of the technically themed panels that are consistently part of conferences, festivals, and other events?
Especially since I, as a woman, reached out to several women we know across our wide network, how is it that not one single female developer either stepped forward or was put forward by their female colleagues? Women who excel in the field of software development are not just mythological beings on par with Athena or the Easter Bunny, but where are they when it comes time to represent? The point is not whether there are enough women across the tech industry to ensure that every panel ever organized has female representation. The statistics are widely known. Rather, the point is that there is not one showing up either on May 3rd, or on so many other, similar panels.
Public speaking is blatantly choosing to spend time contributing your expert opinion over other priorities. So, guilt comes back into the conversation again. Speaking on panels like this is a volunteer engagement, paid strictly in gratitude, the potential for a stimulating conversation, a sense of having contributed, and possibly some nice PR for the participants and their companies. But it is volunteered time away from the normal workflow, family and other personal commitments.
Countless studies, articles, anecdotes and conversations exist (here, here, here, here, here, all over the Internet, and here, and in my heart) around the idea that women are prone to feeling mountains more guilt than men, for anything, really, let alone doing something that could possibly be construed as selfish or self-interested, like speaking as an expert in a historically and currently male-dominated field, like, say technology.
Mostly, the decision about who will speak comes from within each company. I can ask, but as the organizer, ultimately, my request is simply that. While we know those companies employ talented, capable, and qualified women, the men filter through, and end up on stage. Tons of conversations exist around the question of why women are bad at self-promotion (here, here, here, here, here and here, just for starters), but lets just take the notion that we simply are, for now, as a given generalization.
We are all engaged in the much wider conversation within tech, and more broadly the sciences, about female encouragement, engagement, and advancement. Without quoting Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Hillary Clinton or my mother, I am primarily left chewing on why no women did step forward to be on this panel, or so many other panels being organized all the time. There is, as many have pointed out, a HUGE series of systemic issues that contribute to situations like this one. However, shaking our heads at the perpetuation of these problems without actively contributing solutions absolutely won’t do it.
Back in January, the suggestion was made that men should think harder about whether there are women they can recommend for a slot on a panel. Everyone should share their binders full of women far and wide. There’s no gold medal for being the individual to solve this first, so how about putting aside competitive reactionism, and just helping each other solve it collectively. Call it whatever you want – leaning in, stepping up, shouting out loud – decidedly more women need to speak up for themselves, and we all need to point out those who are already doing so.
I want to hold another panel, on the same subject, with all women. I want to hear female voices as expert contributors on more technical panels all over. So, if you are or know a brilliant woman who will make that choice and speak, show up… in my inbox.